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Second Read, Code

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on October 22, 2007 at 12:17:04 pm

Code, Round Two 


Hillary A. Jones

Second Reading of Code, On Trust and Epistemic Responsibility


Code notes that epistemologists have “defined ‘legitimate knowledge’ by ‘its rejection of trust’; indeed, ‘trust and authority stand against the very idea of science’ (note 64, refers to Shapin’s Social History of Truth) as the putatively most reliable form of human knowledge” (269).  She acknowledges Quinean naturalism reintroduces some space for responsibility and trust, but does not embrace them and seems to seek to distance itself from issues of trust.  A major part of her project is encouraging epistemic responsibility, though, and so these questions become central for her argument.


Code introduces at least seven ways trust functions between doctors and patients.  They include: trusting a physician enough to enter the consulting room, trust in a doctor’s knowledge/expertise/legitimacy, the patient’s trust in her/his own senses and judgment, the doctor’s trust in his/her own knowledge, the doctor’s trust in the patient as narrator, the doctor’s trust in the consultation to uncover signs that will assist in diagnosis, and trust in scientific and medical knowledge as an arbiter of truth (191-192).  Trust reappears in these and other forms throughout the text, although all seven of these are apparent in her in-depth study of Olivieri (267-269 deal directly with trust).


Trust, for Code, is essential for epistemic responsibility.  She ties knowledge intimately to the spaces and situations from which it arises; indeed, she contends they cannot be isolated from the “social-political-cultural-ecological situations” (192).  For her, responsible advocacy relies on “trust, sensitivity, and integrity” (196).  Trust becomes a central component for knowledge-making, advocacy, and relationships.  Determining when to trust relies in great part in assessing who, when, and where we encounter knowledge.  Who, when, and where the knowledge is created (and perhaps we should add “for whom?”) is just as crucial (267).  Such trust relies on evaluating credibility of the knowledge, the knower, and the knowledge-generating process (p. 268), which all rely upon rhetorical constructions of credibility. 


Code suggests that trust and responsibility are central to her project—they relate to how the “complexity of establishing the public epistemic status and trustworthiness of knowers” carries power.  By introducing humility and honesty (271) into the equation, Code encourages a responsible epistemology that relies upon trust and collaboration.  She maintains that “Responsible, thoughtful practice mitigates against an epistemic chaos where trust could never be rational and where acknowledgement could rarely be justly claimed or conferred” (ix).  Trust is central to epistemic authority’s existence; Code insists that people are “responsible for what and how they know” and they must honor this responsibility to engender the public’s trust (ix).


Trust is central to epistemology in ecological thinking, and we have seen trust as important in several of the other books, as with yearning to be with others, group formation and identity mobilization, and a re-valuation of belief.  Trust is important for maintaining relationships, knowledge, and politics. 


To discuss: What are some of the other ways we see trust manifest in this argument and the others we’ve read?  What are some of the ways we can apply Code’s emphasis on trust and epistemic responsibility to our own research?  What about our teaching (which is remarkably akin to doctor/patient knowledge collaboration)?



Code’s Middle Ground Between Generalization and Specificity

Kristin Rawls


            In Ecological Thinking: The Politics of Epistemic Location, Lorraine Code navigates a middle ground between what she designates as two epistemological extremes—scientistic positivism and radical constructivism.  In the first chapter, Code posits ecological thinking as a way of bridging this divide in order to make non-reductive generalizations that are sensitive to situated knowledges.  That is, while “ecological thinking…distances itself from quests for a priori or transcendent principles and truths,” the “language of ‘context’ and ‘contextualization’” provides inadequate explanatory power in itself (5).  This approach problematizes the “self-certainties of western capitalism and the epistemologies of mastery that it underwrites” (4) in order to posit an approach to epistemology with more emancipatory potential (71).  Here, I will briefly discuss the argument that Code makes in favor of a middle ground between positivism and constructivism—and also consider some questions that her approach may raise.

            In her discussion of the work of Rachel Carson, Code both demonstrates how her position is informed by the ecological sciences and also makes it clear that she is not proposing a naïve or complete rejection of science.  Specifically, Code explains that she wants to provide a “picture of Carson as epistemologist, whose epistemic-scientific imaginary, rhetorical strategies, and practices of inquiry contrast…with those of a… postpositivist faith in the power of an idealized, monolithic science to explain everything worthy of explanation” (37-8).  Although Carson by no means rejects “careful attention to empirical-observational evidence” (29), Code argues that she demonstrates and advocates for “an intellectual-moral humility in scientistic inquiry” that is attentive to place and rejects epistemologies of mastery.  Ultimately, Code concludes that Carson invites readers “to promote a more participatory, democratic epistemology than the uncontaminated purity of the discourse of mastery can allow” (43). 

            After establishing the usefulness of Carson’s work, Code brings in the work of Karen Messing in order to clarify her position on testimony as a useful source of data for ecological thinking.  Messing’s use of testimony for cognitive research helps Code to set up the ways in which Carson’s epistemological approach leads to “experiential-testimonial evidence of the everyday, down-on-the-ground variety, often dismissed as merely anecdotal” (51).  Code reads Messing’s work to be “marked by an interplay between local hypotheses and empirical generalizations” (53).  She suggests that Messing provides a good example of how “ecological thinking repositions and revalorizes experiential evidence” (52) in order to bring situated—usually subjugated—forms of knowledge into epistemological practice. 

            Here, I want to raise two very different questions about the approach outlined here.  First, I wonder if Code’s model for ecological thinking relies too much on the ability to make generalizations across different locations?  That is, does she ultimately concede too much ground to scientistic positivism?  Code certainly tries to guard against this possibility; in fact, she admits that “the expanded and reconfigured conception of causality that informs ecological thinking can rarely deliver the unilinear, uniform, universal, and immediate causal accounts that…are the hallmark of scientific inquiry” (55).  Given Code’s model, what would acceptable generalizations look like, and how can we be sure that they are fundamentally different from positivist approaches to the creation of knowledge? 

            Second, I want to consider Code’s advocacy for the “revalorization” of local, experiential knowledges.  While it is certainly crucial that testimonial knowledge be integrated and included in scientific inquiry, I wonder if the language of revalorization could lead to epistemological practices that reify the value of testimony?  Can testimony become a foundation, and if so, how might such a development be problematic for emancipatory scholarship?  Code may escape this problem through her careful attention to the importance of honing interpretive skills.  That is, testimonial evidence is not necessarily taken at face value, but must be submitted to careful interpretation that is “closely akin to the interpretive skills exercised in responsibly knowledgeable human interactions” (85).  Ultimately, I would like to consider the specific places where Code’s epistemology might take us in forging new ways of creating knowledge—including the various tensions and problems that may surface as a result of her approach. 



Over-romanticizing the local?

Kate Derickson 



Though I find Code’s call for an epistemological revolution compelling in general, her account of ecological thinking leaves me with a few questions.  These questions predominantly arise from an ambiguity, either in her work or in my interpretation, between epistemological approaches and the phenomena under investigation.  This is perhaps a false dichotomy, but for the sake of truly understanding Code’s argument, one worth investigating.  The difference between epistemology and its subject, as I understand it, is one of what is knowable, and what we want to know about.  The confusion arises for me in her emphasis on, and privileging of, the local.


Clearly, Code wants to retain the ability to critique oppression, which she understands to function in a systemic, interconnected way (60).  But it is not clear to me from her argument how we might go about producing knowledge about systems as they function beyond specific occurrences.  Code argues that knowledge produced through ecological thinking travels through analogy and regional mappings (67), but I am not quite clear what that looks like without deductive reasoning.   If we are to knit together examples of local racisms, how do we function without a recourse to a thing, an extra-local phenomenon, called “racism” that is the foundation of the analogy?  In other words, how do we deduce that these things are all manifestations of a condemnable phenomenon called racism?


Further, I wonder if Code over-romanticizes the possibilities of “the local” both as a site of knowledge production and a place to avoid oppressive knowledge.  Is it possible that there are some axes along which oppressive phenomena align which are not best studied “locally,” (either metaphorically or literally)?  Oppressive practices can often be dismissed in their individual manifestations (“Oh, he didn’t mean it like that...”) but it is their repetition, pattern, and large scale manifestation that enable us to see their impact and implication. 

It may be that Code would charge that I have conflated the knowledge production process and the phenomena under investigation, and that we may produce knowledge about processes as they function at larger scales (the global?), but the process by which we produce it must be localized.  If that is in fact the case, I’d like us to think through what that might look like.  To use the obvious example, how would we produce knowledge about “globalization” from the perspective of ecological thinking?



 How Far Can You See From Here?

Concerned with the possible place that can be reasonably claimed for imagination in the construction of knowledge, Lorraine Code examines the relationship between reason and imagination.  The type of reasoning that she is contrasting with imagination is the one that is based on thinking that pertains to consider the relationship between the self and the other.  The sixth section of Ecological Thinking begins with the following question:  “How far can you see from here (201)?”  From where I stand, how can I know I have a clear perception of whom I imagine the other to be, of whomever that is beyond me?  Such questions to Code, “pose a range of equally complex questions about the intricacies of situated epistemic subjectivity: of subjects knowing and subjects known (202).  In view of this, the attempt to imagine the subject position of the other poses constraint on our own subject position.  It reveals the limitation about conceiving (imagining) the other that in turn hints at the possibility that we might have not clearly reasoned about whom we are.  She says that everyday vulnerability and experiences of trauma “make owning, one’s capacities, emotions, and actions far less matter-of-course than liberal assumptions about the self-sufficient self-as-property assume; yet phenomenologically, such experiences are as central as autonomy to human being (203).”  The self reasonably conceived by liberal assumption is based on false imaginary premises.  It does not take into account the ever-changing condition regarding how we come to define ourselves.  For example, someone experiencing trauma will give a different account of himself than another person who is not experiencing it.  Thereby, what I assume to know about someone who is traumatized ought to be different than what I might imagine about someone who is not.  And knowing this must have influence on the way I might relate to others.  Imagination, “here, then, is about making such attempts as are feasible to think one’s way into the situations of differently situated Others, including principally (for this argument) but not exclusively, the marginalized, the otherwise damaged; and not just for the sake of it, but to attempt to undo some of the damage enacted by often-coercive presumptions of sameness (207).”  Following Mark Johnson’s views in Moral Imagination, it can be said that imagining, “is intergral to the ‘discriminations’ that enable people to act ‘sensibly and responsibly toward others (213).”


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